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4 simple steps to eating more healthy food

March 1, 2018 (Updated: January 8, 2019)
Lily Moran

[2019 Healthy Habits]Changing your diet is one of the most effective ways to become and stay healthy. Next to exercise, there’s nothing else you can do that has a bigger positive health impact. So why is it so difficult to make real and lasting changes to your diet?

This article will debunk some diet myths and remove some very common barriers in your path to eating more healthy food. Psssst… you don’t have to revamp your entire diet! Keep reading and I’ll spill all my secrets.

What you put on your plate sets the tone for the rest of your health. A healthy diet helps you maintain your weight (maybe even lose some), gives you a day-long zip of energy, boosts your mood, and much more.

While this is common knowledge, what’s less known is that eating healthy doesn’t have to be difficult. Small steps are easier than big, sweeping changes—and they are more effective over the long-term, too. Here are my secrets to making small but meaningful changes to your diet.

Why Small Changes are So Helpful

But first I want to make one thing very clear. I’m NOT asking you to revamp your entire diet.

There is the perception that dietary changes are difficult and expensive. They definitely don’t have to be! Eating more nutritiously is not about depriving yourself of your favorite foods, or spending a ton of money on hard-to-find ingredients for hard-to-follow recipes. You don’t have to give up your favorite foods. You don’t have to skip dessert (at least not all of the time). You don’t have to be constantly thinking, “I can’t do _____, _______, and ______ because I’m on a diet.”

I understand how you can get that impression, but I’m telling you right here and right now that eating better boils down to making simple, inexpensive, minor changes and additions to your existing routine. It really is as easy as that!

And you’ll start feeling the differences that these small changes make almost immediately.

Here are four simple steps you can incorporate starting today.

Step #1: Plan Your Meals

The Internet is chock full of healthy recipes that can be found with a few keystrokes. It can take as little as 10 minutes to figure out what meals you plan to cook in the next week or two.

The key word here is “plan.” It’s best to have a shopping plan before you walk into the grocery store. Not just a list, but a plan to buy only what’s on the list. When you don’t have a list or a plan to keep to it, you’re more likely to buy unhealthy, prepackaged TV dinners and sugary snacks like cookies, pies, ice cream, and chips.

Don’t be ashamed to take some dietary and shopping “shortcuts.” For example, I’m a proud buyer of pre-cut and spiralized vegetables for the simple fact that I don’t always have the time or desire to cut and spiralize them at home. I’m sure you can give me an amen to that! Or you might have a condition like arthritis that makes slicing and chopping difficult. The added convenience may cost you a couple extra dollars, but it’s worth it if it leads to you eating better.

Also, if you find that you throw away a lot of your produce because it goes bad before you have a chance to eat it all, then buy frozen, organic varieties. There’s no shame in that—especially considering frozen produce is just as nutritious as its fresh counterpart.

Finally, once you have all that food stocked away in your fridge and pantry, I suggest using some time, maybe Saturday or Sunday afternoon, to prepare some of your meals for the week in advance.

For example, bake a couple dozen egg-and-vegetable muffin cups for quick and tasty breakfasts-on-the-go. Put together your lunches in Bento boxes and store them in your refrigerator. And combine ingredients for slow cooker or Instant Pot recipes in zipper-lock bags to eliminate prep time during weeknight dinners.

Having as much of your weekly menu prepped or completed before the week even starts prevents spontaneous eating out or take-out orders—both of which can really pack on the pounds (and blow up your budget) if done too often.

Step #2: Never Shop Hungry

How many times have you refrained from eating throughout the day because you have plans to go out for dinner? And then when you sit down, you order and devour a filling appetizer. Then comes your entrée. A drink refill. Maybe a third. Dessert? Sure.

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By the time you grab your keys, you just ate a 3,000-calorie meal!

Shopping on an empty stomach has the same regrettable effects. Think about it: How many times have you gone grocery shopping while hungry, only to fill your cart with snack foods and unhealthy treats that you normally wouldn’t buy? (And then maybe even eat them on your drive home!)

I suggest you go shopping after you eat a hearty, healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A full stomach will keep you better focused, on task, and help you resist these temptations much more easily. And remember—don’t buy anything not already on your list.

By the way, shopping while stressed or tired can also lower your guard against unhealthy impulse buys.

Step #3: Substitute Unhealthy Ingredients for Healthy Ones

This one is critical and perhaps the most difficult because it requires some change of routine. Many staples of the American diet—white rice, white flour, white sugar, and more—are nutritionally vacant. Fortunately, there are healthier substitutions for just about every food under the sun.

Here’s a handy list of foods to remove from your diet and foods to replace them. I suggest you print this list and put it somewhere visible—especially when jotting down shopping lists and recipes.

Replace… With This…
Refined white flour 100% whole wheat flour, almond flour, brown rice flour
Sugar Xylitol, stevia, erythritol
White rice Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa
Spaghetti/pasta 100% whole wheat varieties or spiralized veggies like squash or zucchini
Sweetened chocolate chips Unsweetened cacao nibs
Heavy cream Coconut milk
Standard (high sodium) soy sauce Coconut aminos or liquid aminos
Iceberg lettuce Spinach, watercress, arugula, kale
Pre-bottled salad dressing Extra virgin olive oil + balsamic vinegar or make your own dressing using olive oil as the base

Also, one of the easiest ways to add nutritional punch to a dish is to simply add more vegetables. For instance, if you’re making a homemade pizza, top it with spinach, peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, and any other vegetable you enjoy. The more, the better.

In fact, swap out that flour-based pizza crust for a cauliflower crust!

Veggies can almost always be added to a dish—even if you have to steam and puree them before blending them in. There’s a reason why parents of young kids do this food hack a lot. Sweet potato pancakes, anyone? Easy on the syrup though! Try cinnamon and some warm berries instead.

Step #4: Take Omega-3 and Probiotics Supplements

Adding probiotics and omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) supplements to your daily routine will put a cherry on top of all the above-mentioned tweaks to your existing routine and diet.

If you’re unaware of probiotics, they are good bacteria already living in your intestines. They help digest your food and absorb vitamins and minerals, as well as prevent food-borne illnesses. But illness, certain medications, poor diet, or even stress can knock out your probiotic populations.

Fermented foods like yogurt and kombucha can help bolster your probiotic levels, but it’s best to look for a probiotic supplement with at least six different strains of bacteria and at least 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per dose. CFUs refers to the number of live and active bacteria found in each serving.

It’s really hard to neatly summarize everything that omega-3 EFAs do for you, but the biggies are protection for your cardiovascular, emotional, immune, and neurological health.

Studies show that they can help lower your blood pressure and prevent hardening of your arteries. Studies also show that omega-3 EFAs help prevent inflammation and other immune-system illnesses such as asthma and allergies.

I recommend 1,000 to 3,000 mg of the omega-3s EPA and DHA per day. Be careful when you read labels because 1,000 mg of fish oil is not the same as 1,000 mg of omega-3s. Make sure the combined EPA and DHA content equals at least 1,000 mg.

Set the Tone for Vibrant Health

Without healthy eating habits, you undercut your other efforts to improve your health. For example, you can exercise every single day, but if you follow it up with a fast food meal and sugary dessert, guess what… you’re going to gain weight and develop blood sugar problems, despite your habit of regular exercise.

But as you can see, better nutrition is not some lofty, unattainable goal. These simple changes are the first steps on a path toward more vibrant health.

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